Byzantine Mosaics

Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis
Byzantine, c. 500–550


The bust of a richly bejeweled woman stares from this fragment of a floor mosaic that was once part of a large public building. The partially restored Greek inscription near her head identifies her as Ktisis, the personification of the act of generous donation or foundation. To emphasize her role as donor, she holds the measuring tool for the Roman foot. On her right a man extends a cornucopia toward her as if offering a gift; the Greek word for "good" is near his head. Originally a similar figure probably appeared to her left, and an inscription by his head would have completed the legend "Good wishes."

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Mosaic with a Peacock and Flowers
Roman or Byzantine, 3rd–4th century
This mosaic, probably part of a much larger floor mosaic, shows a peacock among flowers. The peacock was a popular subject for Roman and Byzantine artists, often used to represent paradise, renewal, and spring. Byzantines might have thought the peacock an appropriate symbol for the season, because its elaborate feathers grew each spring. Associating the peacock with heavenly paradise was an extension of the Byzantine vision of earthly paradise—many wealthy citizens were known to have kept peacocks to roam about the flowers and trees of their gardens.

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Section of a Marble Mosaic Bathhouse Floor
Byzantine (Antioch) 537/538
Bathhouses were sometimes built through the donations of private individuals as an act of civic munificence. Bathhouses in the Byzantine period featured extensive decoration, including marble, sculpture (sometimes ancient pieces), and floor mosaics, such as this one. Expensive decor emphasized the generosity of donors in beautifying a city’s landscape through the building of fine baths.

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Additional Resources

Mosaic Floor Panel
Roman (Antioch), 2nd century A.D.

The rectangular panel represents the entire decorated area of a floor and was found together with another mosaic (now in the Baltimore Museum of Art) in an olive grove at Daphne-Harbiye in 1937. In Roman times, Daphne was a popular holiday resort, used by the wealthy citizens and residents of Antioch as a place of rest and refuge from the heat and noise of the city. American excavations at Daphne in the late 1930s uncovered the remains of several well-appointed houses and villas, including the one that contained this mosaic. At its center is a panel (emblema) with the bust of a woman, decked out with a wreath of flowers around her head and a floral garland over her left shoulder. Traditionally identified as Spring, the figure is probably the representation of a more generic personification of abundance and good living, well suited to the luxurious atmosphere created at Daphne by its rich patrons.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016